Days Numbered for Sister Bay Village Hall?

The Sister Bay Village Hall has been a landmark in the center of the village waterfront for 81 years, but that may soon end.

The village’s plan commission discussed the building’s future during its July meeting and came to the consensus that the hall, built in 1941 at a cost of $10,000, will have to go. It’s not the first time the fate of the hall has come up for discussion, but new village administrator Julie Schmelzer, who has been on the job for two months, said she has already realized the myriad issues with the building. 

“It has sentimental value, but not historic value,” she said. “It’s not all that old, but it’s in bad shape.”

The village has investigated making renovations to the building in the past, but village trustee and plan commission member Denise Bhirdo said ultimately those become really expensive without a lot of bang for the buck. 

“I don’t support spending a penny to revamp it in any way,” said commissioner and village president Rob Zoschke. 

What replaces the hall is a different question. The village has already opened up nearly all of the waterfront, so more green space in that area isn’t the highest priority, commissioners said. Schmelzer suggested the spot would make a great location for a visitor center or a small waterfront museum. 

“Let’s have something we are so proud of there,” she said. 

She and village trustee and plan commission member Nate Bell suggested a building with lots of glass and windows looking out over the waterfront. Bhirdo wondered whether there would be a creative way to reuse the stone from the hall by incorporating it into the building or another structure. 

Louise Howson, coordinator for the Sister Bay Advancement Association, has hosted several events in the space during her tenure, but she agreed with the plan commission’s assessment.

“The thing about the village hall is that it’s beloved, but nobody goes there,” Howson said. 

The hall plays host to about seven events a year, she said, and it has a limited capacity that doesn’t work for most large community gatherings. For the events that do use the facility, there are many issues that make it less than ideal: The basement has flooded several times; the elevator doesn’t always work for those with mobility limitations; and though the building is located on the waterfront, there are no windows on the water-facing side to take advantage of the location. 

“The question is, is that the best, good use of the best property the village has?” Howson asked. “I’m suggesting it be torn down, so everybody can hate me.”

The village-hall discussion sparked some talk about the future of the post office next door as well. The village investigated moving the post office in 2008 when it began revamping the waterfront but ultimately decided against it. 

In February, the ad hoc Land Acquisition Committee discussed the possibility of moving the post office to the property the village acquired near the sports complex as part of the larger plan to move administrative and park facilities to that property. Postmaster Emeil Marks indicated the post office could be amenable to the move now, in part because the increased use of the waterfront has created traffic-flow and parking issues for the post office.

The hope is that moving the post office would alleviate some traffic congestion, Bell said. 

The plan commission reached consensus that the hall is not worth an investment, but it did not yet outline the next steps for the project.

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